Of course, this pope does have a difficult mission, not just because it is always difficult to be the most prominent intermediary in the world between the terrestrial life we all know and the celestial realm in which many do not believe. He appears to have been elevated because of his pastoral success, universally conceded integrity, and irreproachably modest and outspoken advocacy of the poor, as the most ingenuous and unassailable possible messenger for the traditional Catholicism that is now, especially in its attitude toward contraception, not supported by more than a small and very doctrinaire section of the laity. The Church well knows that its views, restated by successive popes but largely dissented from even by the bishops, are a counsel of perfection. But this counsel is maintained in a way that invites scorn and incredulity as the prohibition commended as moral duty shows no recognition that sexual intercourse has, for billions of people, become a mere extension of the pleasures of heterosexual affection, because of the ease with which it can be assured not to be a procreative act. When almost any coupling with a woman of child-bearing age presented the potential for conception, the Church could plausibly counsel caution for moral as well as practical reasons. But for better or worse, the evolution of mores and the progress of paramedical science in the contraceptive age has routinized the sexual act…

There must be a dogmatically respectable way to execute a dignified climb-down and declare the sexual act a consequential moral commitment appropriate to and generally reserved to marriage, but sometimes unexceptionable when undertaken with contraceptive precautions, and reprehensible only if entered into wantonly. By clinging to the objection to contraception, even among married couples, the Church conveys the false impression of wishing to make sex risky and inaccessible, of opposing useful science, and of putting its hostility to safe sex ahead of its mortal opposition to abortion, a much more defensible and important cause that would be directly assisted by ending the failed war on contraception. The Roman Catholic Church, with all respect to the long traditions involved, should not be in the business of appearing to be the party of joyless behavioral philistinism, and should not needlessly subject itself to unjust imputations of hypocrisy. The secondary controversy over an all-male clergy can probably be dealt with by laicizing more activities with equal opportunities for women.